Last week, we wrote about the role of Big Data in American Football, as it is a current topic and because US football is a sport particularly suited for analytics: with a roster of about 50 players, the coaches need a lot of statistics as they cannot focus on each and every one of their players.
Today, we would like to share with you our analysis of the two final teams that will compete to bring the trophy home on Sunday, February 5th: the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons! And we will of course pick the team that we think will win the Super Bowl LI at the end of the article.
For greater clarity, you can click on the dashboard above or here to view the entire analysis and statistics of the teams. During our research, we relied heavily on data from SportingCharts and ESPN. All data was analyzed and visualized with datapine’s dashboard software.
Overall Team Statistics Comparison
To begin with, let us just recall that this is the Falcons’ 2nd Super Bowl, while the Patriots will be playing their 9th. The Falcons’ first Super Bowl took place in Miami, Florida, in 1999 and they played and lost against the Denver Broncos. Super Bowl Statistics show that the Patriots won 4 of their 8 Super Bowls in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2015.
The basic metrics used to evaluate a football team are their average points per game, the average points that they received from an opposing team, the overall yards gained and the opponent’s overall yards gained. We can see that the Patriots scored less on average than the Falcons in this season (27.6 against 33.8), which puts them in third place of score results while the Falcons are first. However, their defense allowed the opponents fewer points: 15.6 per game for the Patriots, bringing them to the top rank, while the Falcons have an average of 25.4 points per game against them… the 27th place of this season’s rankings. That reveals a weakness in defense that can play in favor of the Patriots: indeed, even if Atlanta’s offense efficiency is two ranks higher, their defense efficiency rank is of 22 against the Patriots’s 7, according to ESPN.
In total, they have played each other 13 times since 1972. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 7 times, and won the four last times they met in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013. Surprisingly, the Falcons lost in 1992 without a single point, with the scoreboard showing 0:34.
Another revealing stat is the evolution of each team’s points scored per game and points allowed by opponents per season. Below you can see the average scores per season from 1990 until 2016.
It is clear for the Patriots that they had a turning point in the 2000s. The curve of points per game (PPG) detaches itself from the PPG against curve; the two curves do not intersect again. For the Falcons, the observation is more mitigated: both curves are meeting and detaching over time, but no trend can really be observed.
Top Players Statistics
Looking at each team’s best performer and their respective position on the field, it is pretty balanced. The Patriots are taking the Falcons over with its rushing leader – 299 attempts and 18 touchdowns for LeGarrette Blount while Devonta Freeman has 227 attempts for 11 touchdowns – as well as with their passing leader, the player on whom all eyes are on this season: Tom Brady.
Overall, the Patriots key players seem to have more experience. The lowest number of seasons played by the Patriots top 4 is seven, while the Falcons’ top 4 has two rookies recently drafted – Devonta Freeman and Deion Jones – and their most experienced top player, Matt Ryan, played nine seasons. Their talent with the ball might be outstanding, but it requires experience and experience only to manage stress, media exposure, outside pressure, etc. Only time can provide such experience, and that can also be observed with the average age of those top 4: 31 for the Pats versus 26 for the Falcons.
And if one person can encompass such experience, it is of course New England’s superstar Tom Brady, with his 17 seasons played and his exceptional physical shape for someone on the verge to turn 40. With all the odds to win another Super Bowl MVP title in 2017, the list of records he is holding or about to break is as long as his 17-year career: this season, he sets another record of touchdowns to interception ratio (28-to-2) and most all-time won games (201 in regular season and playoffs). This final will be Brady’s 32nd game in postseason, in other words he played the equivalent of two full seasons only in postseason games. He also has quite impressive Super Bowl statistics: on Sunday, by only stepping on the field he will make a record seventh Super Bowl played. He holds the most Super Bowl passing yards (1605), pass attempts (247), completions (164) and has thrown the most touchdowns (13). In other words, Brady is an extremely hardworking and talented player.
A Closer Look At The Offensive statistics
On all of the offensive statistics, both teams have pretty similar figures, but with an advantage for the Falcons though. Whether it is rushing, receiving, passing or the overall, Falcons always are a bit ahead, and their scoring efficiency is 10% higher, which means that they are more able to convert offensive chances into points on the scoreboard. Led by Matt Ryan, this year the Falcons own the 8th highest-scoring offense in the history of NFL. Besides, the quarterback threw seven touchdowns without interception during the playoffs, and the NFL digged out statistics of other players throwing 7+ TD without interception in the past playoffs: all of them won the Super Bowl afterwards.
Everyone is praising the incredible offense of the Falcons and it will surely be difficult for the Patriots’ defense to counter their attacks, but at the same time more statistics tell us that over the past 15 years, only one best-scoring team won the Super Bowl (New Orleans Saints in 2009). These Super Bowl statistics are more in advantage of the Pats if we take a look at their defense, who is ranking first on this season’s rankings of points scored by the opponents. Let us now analyze both teams’ defensive data.
Detailed Defensive Statistics
Unlike the offensive statistics who had very similar data with a slight advantage for the Falcons, an overview of the defensive statistics clearly gives an idea of the stronger defense of the Patriots. Whether looking at the rushing, receiving, or passing metrics, we see an important difference between the two teams.
The Falcons’ received touchdowns allowed are 10 points higher than the Patriots, 31 for 21. Likewise, their rushing touchdowns against are 2.5 the Patriots’ rushing TDs against. The Falcons rank 27th when it comes to the points per game against (an average of 25.4), while the Patriots are 1st with an average of 15.6. Ditto with the opposing score efficiency: 28.3 for the Patriots versus 39.2 for the Falcons.
Our Top 5 Reasons Why The New England Patriots Will Win The Super Bowl 2017
Now it is time for the bets, and ours is on the Patriots. Not only is their defense extremely efficient, as we have seen above, but so are their other assets.
1. Tom Brady, Tom Brady, and Tom Brady
His name is on everyone’s lips. As we already mentioned above, the unstoppable quarterback is breaking all the records in spite of the Deflategate and his 4-game suspension. 39 years old and in exceptional physical condition, the man who might be the best quarterback in NFL history always has something to prove when he is on the field, and that is also why he is breaking all the records.
The experience Brady brings with him and his 17 seasons played, as well as the team’s coach since 2000, Bill Belichik, is an incredible asset. This year’s Super Bowl 51 is the 7th for the Patriots in the Brady-Belichik era, and they have won 4 of them. Tom Brady is catching on former quarterback Joe Montana for the most Super Bowl wins by a starting quarterback, while Belichik is tied with coach Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl wins by a head coach… So they all the more want to win and bring the title home!
3. Fighting Spirit
All the commotion around the Deflategate scandal, the time it took, the yes and no, resulting in Brady’s 4 week suspension a year and a half later, gave him an even stronger fighting spirit. And even the biggest Patriots hater would enjoy the idea of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell being forced to get on stage and hand the Lombardi trophy to Tom Brady.
4. Defense Wins
Coordinator Matt Patricia’s defense was number one in scoring this season and is a huge asset for the Patriots. Starting in the postseason playoffs, Patricia’s team had a top-10 rushing defense in the NFL, and pretty much like the Patriots in general, the defensive line is not made up of several stand-out players, but a group that works together as a whole. And usually, what makes a team win a major tournament is not just its offensive lines, but indeed the efficiency and resilience of its defense like we showed in the Super Bowl statistics above.
5. Great Coaching Staff
Belichik has done an incredible job as head coach. But the team wouldn’t be as well prepared without its top two coordinators, Matt Patricia on defense and Josh McDaniels on offense. The latter has an exceptional flexibility in taking what the opponent gives him as a defense and changing his plans and tactics accordingly on the fly.
In the end, all these analytics led us to conclude that the odds are in the Patriots’ favor to bring home the trophy this year. However, everyone likes supporting the underdog, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the bets on Atlanta grow in the upcoming days!
Let’s tune in on Sunday to see how that Super Bowl 2017 will surprise us, how the half-time show of Lady Gaga will entertain us, which commercial is worth the $5 millions and which records will be broken!